‘Paper Machine’ to Replace Traditional Diagnostics Under Controlled Temperatures: study

Harvard’s George Whitesides

Harvard’s George Whitesides

A new portable “paper machine” can detect cancer and infectious diseases besides identifying some gnetics disorders and it costs just $2 or Rs.120, thanks to George Whitesides from Harvard University and his colleagues who invented it.

The paper machine integrates paper microfluidices in a multi-layer structure to give diagnostic results at a highly reduced cost, virtually eliminating the need for diagnostic centres which thrive on nexus with doctors who recommend them more often than required.

“The prototype device integrates paper microfluidics and a multi-layer structure, or a ‘paper machine’, that allows a central patterned paper strip to slide in and out of fluidic path and thus allows introduction of sample, wash buffers, amplification master mix, and detection reagents with minimal pipetting, in a hand-held, disposable device intended for point-of-care use in resource-limited environments,” said researchers in their finding.

The new paper machine works making diagnostic tools simple enough to test DNA analysis in blood sample. In case of pathogenic bacteria, it will detect the foreign genetic material and give results accurately providing the end result. The only requirement for it function is a controlled temperature to prepare the results.

Published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, the researchers said in their paper that the new device determines the presence of even 5 cells of E. coli bacterium in blood samples that otherwise gets ignored in usual blood sample testing. The results are visible in ultraviolet light and even smartphones can be calibrated to find these results.

George M. Whitesides began early in his career making new molecules, figuring out the mechanisms of chemical reactions, tuning instruments to tell one compound from another and in his efforts to make diagnostics affordable, he has set his sights on creating cheap, simple and robust devices for diagnostics.

With his research group at Harvard University, Whitesides has made patterned, postage stamp–sized pieces of paper printed with dyes and proteins.

When placed a drop of blood, urine or saliva on the strip, the paper’s capillary action wicks it along to react with the proteins, producing color changes that give health care workers quick, unambiguous and reliable information about their patients, said the researcher.

Whitesides later helped found, Diagnostics For All, that uses one of these devices to test liver function in HIV patients taking concoctions of powerful liver-damaging anti-retroviral drugs. The company hopes to start sending the tests to Africa within the next few years.

A drop of blood on this paper strip can reveal high levels of an enzyme that signals liver damage. (Photo: DIAGNOSTICS FOR ALL)

“Low-cost diagnostics has the characteristic that it is both a problem that is really important in a very broad sense but also leads to all sorts of interesting new science,” says Whitesides.

Simplicity is the key, says Whitesides with these small, adaptable devices anywhere in the world. Essentially, he has taken an “out of the box” approach to research when many of his colleagues were focusing on making existing diagnostic tools better.

“One of the things which I’ve come to feel very strongly is that we should completely abolish the distinction between science and engineering,” he says. “It takes players who are on the same team and pits them against one another.”

He attributes his success to fundamental science, with which solutions to some big problems may not be so hard to find.

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